HC Deb 25 May 1865 vol 179 cc855-9

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the second time.


said, he objected to the mode in which the County Court Judges had been treated. Their work had constantly been increased, and would receive still further additions by this Bill. It was true that an addition to their salaries was proposed in the present measure, but it took the objectionable form of fees instead of a fixed salary; and as the superannuation allowances for County Court Judges were determined on the amounts of their fixed salaries, there appeared to be, as far as he could see, no provision for any increase in their superannuation.


said, he was anxious to take the earliest opportunity of thanking Her Majesty's Government for the introduction of this Bill, which would effect a greater improvement in that branch of the administration of justice which more immediately concerned the labouring and many of the middle classes than any measure which had for a long time been brought before the House. At the same time he entirely agreed with what had been said by his hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Craufurd) as to the insufficiency of the remuneration of County Court Judges. Their claims had been on more than one occasion altogether disregarded in that House, though there had been, he believed, a contrary disposition in the House of Lords. Although all the highest authorities had desired to do them justice, objections had always been raised, emanating, as it was supposed, from the Finance Minister, or those who regulated the administration of the finances compromises had been come to, and Bills involving the question of the proper remuneration of these Judges had never had fair play in either House of Parliament. There was within Her Majesty's dominions no more important or more useful, no more hardly worked and badly paid class of men than the County Court Judges, and he hoped that the House would at last be able and be willing to do them justice. He hoped that a sufficient interval would be allowed before the Bill went into Committee to enable the House to receive Returns upon which might be framed Amendments to the system of paying the County Court Judges an additional remuneration out of fees, which, as proposed by this Bill, appeared to him to be the worst that the wit of man could have devised. If no other Member proposed such Amendments, he should himself give notice of them, and he therefore hoped that the House would not be asked to go into Committee until after Whitsuntide.


said, he did not oppose the second reading of the Bill, but objected to the 13th Clause. As that clause was originally framed the Judges were not to receive additions which would raise their salaries to more than £1,600 a year, while as it now stood the additions were not to exceed £300 a year, so that the salaries of those Judges who now received £1,500 a year might be raised to £1,800. He also objected to the equal distribution of the fees among all the Judges, so that the Judge of an agricultural district, upon whom comparatively little extra labour might be imposed by this Bill, would receive as great an addition to his salary as would the Judge of one of the populous districts in Lancashire, upon whom it might impose a very large amount of extra work. He did not concur in the mode proposed of paying additional salaries by fees. It was not desirable that suitors should feel that they were paying the salaries of the Judges, and he should prefer that the amount be charged on the Consolidated Fund.


said, that although he did not intend to oppose the second reading of the Bill, he could not give it so cordial an approval as his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Suffolk (Sir FitzRoy Kelly) had done. He entertained considerable fears as to its working, and grave doubts as to the expediency of having a number of small Courts of Chancery all over the country. It was most important that the County Court Judges should not be overloaded with work, because if they were the whole system would break down. At present they could only try actions at law up to £50, and why their jurisdiction in equity should be extended to £500 he could not understand. The cases involving actions at law were simple indeed compared with those which involved equity. In the former case it was generally a simple question whether a man should or should not pay a debt There were two reasons for the existing limitations—one, that the courts were not of so high a character that they ought to decide questions of great importance, and the other that it was necessary that they should deal only with such cases as could be easily and speedily disposed of. By this Bill it was proposed to give them jurisdiction in all matters of foreclosure and redemption, enforcing liens or charges upon land, and bills for specific performance, without saying anything as to the pleadings to be adopted or the modes of trial to be followed. These classes of cases, espe- cially those for specific performance, were difficult and often lengthy, and he was afraid that if they were to be tried in the County Court by Judges who were often only a single day in one place, they might interfere with the arrangement of business and break down the whole system. He hoped that when the House went into Committee on the Bill his hon. and learned Friend (the Attorney General) would enter into a careful consideration of the subject. He for one did not think it was desirable that the jurisdiction to be given under the Bill should be so extensive as was proposed. There should be no such jurisdiction, he thought, in those cases in which the property involved amounted to more than £200.


said, that if the Bill were to become law, it would be necessary to consider the position of the registrars of County Courts, with the view of securing that they should possess some legal qualification. They should be either barristers or attorneys. In answer to the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Suffolk (Sir Fitz Roy Kelly), who had laid it down as a doctrine to be universally adopted, that persons ought not to pay fees who had recourse to a court of justice, he would observe that he entirely dissented from that view. Suitors went there for their own benefit, or through their own fault; and when the County Courts were first established, a pledge was given that the fees should be commensurate with the whole expense of those courts.


said, the hon. and learned Gentleman had misunderstood him if he thought he objected to the imposition of fees. What he had stated on the subject was that the salary of the Judge should not depend on the chance sum taken for fees.


said, he wished to know whether any attempt would be made to establish a scale of fees, as had been suggested by Lord St. Leonards, in another place, for cases of small value in the Court of Chancery.


said, in reply to the remarks which had been made by the hon. and learned Member for Wallingford (Mr. Malins) in reference to specific performance, that it must be borne in mind that the principle on which County Courts were established at all was that it was better to administer rough justice than none, and to have questions settled—as far as possible—without having the property involved eaten up, as was frequently the case in the Court of Chancery. As to the regulations which should be laid down concerning bills and pleadings, he had no doubt that as many forms as were found to be necessary would be adopted. On the question of payment he might observe that it was not the fact that the County Court Judges were not to be paid upon the principle of equality, though he admitted that the payments for the extra duties were not to be certain, but would depend upon the amount of the additional work done by each Judge.

Question put, and agreed to: Bill read 2°, and committed for Thursday 8th June.